The story of monkey gland sauce

Monkey gland sauce is a South African barbecue-style sauce usually served with steaks or burgers. Non South Africans wince when you order it in restaurants, but don’t worry, it doesn’t involve any monkeys or any glands. I’ve been on a mission to find out the story behind its name and who invented it when – there are a few urban myths to wade through.

One story goes that French chefs in Johannesburg in the early 20th century were so disgusted with the eating habits of some South Africans that they mixed chutney, ketchup, sugar and garlic and served it with the steak. Their joke backfired as everyone loved it. I guess this could well be the first time it was served, but if so, why the name?

A guy called Eric Bolsmann claims to have discovered the true story. He believes the sauce originated in the Savoy Hotel in London. Russian-born, French scientist Dr Abrahamovitch Serge Voronaff caused a sensation in the 1920s when he began grafting monkey testicle tissue onto men’s testicles, believing it would help to regain virility.

His experimenting became quite famous as people thought he may have found a way to reduce the ageing process. (No luck there unfortunately as his experiments were ultimately declared a failure).

He regularly visited the Savoy Hotel and his fame at the time lead to a new dish being named after him (well after the monkey bit anyway) by the maitre d. An Italian waiter is said to have brought the sauce recipe over to South Africa from the Savoy and introduced it to a top restaurant in Johannesburg. The recipe in this story seems to have a lot less ingredients than the typical one you get today, consisting mainly of mustard, worcester sauce and brandy.

My theory is that the sauce was invented by a chef who looked in the cupboard and saw what he had, then mixed it up until he had a new flavour! Why it was called monkey gland sauce is still a mystery to me.

Clearly the recipe has evolved and my one below has a mix of bottled ingredients and tastes amazing, spicy, sweet and sour.

My tasty monkey gland sauce ready to be loaded onto our steaks

Makes 4 generous portions

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

125ml water

250g tinned tomatoes

3 tbps ketchup

4 tbsps Mrs Balls chilli chutney

2 tbsps white wine vinegar

2 tbsps Worcester sauce

A little oil for frying Fry the onions and garlic over a medium to low heat for about 20mins until softened.

Add the rest of the ingredients , stir thoroughly and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer on low for 30 to 40 minutes.

You can make it ahead and heat it up when you need it, it tastes better if you’ve given the flavours a chance to combine.

Whatever the story behind it, monkey gland sauce is a truly delicious invention and really easy to make. As well as being good with steaks and burgers, I like it cold with cheese, too.

Does anyone out there have a story or theory on the origins of the sauce? I’d love to hear them.

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